Rob Ford will not be held accountable for dozens of "apparent contraventions" of the Municipal Elections Act. In a 2-1 vote on Monday afternoon, City Council's Compliance Audit Committee - composed of three citizens with relevant expertise - decided not to commence legal proceedings against the mayor.
The ruling capped off a two-and-a-half-hour meeting during which committee members heard from the forensic auditors who had examined Ford's campaign finances, as well as from lawyers representing Ford and the Toronto residents who had brought the application.
Heidi Rubin, presenting on behalf of Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler and Max Reed, spoke for fewer than eight minutes. Tom Barlow, presenting on behalf of Rob Ford, spoke for nearly an hour. (Here is where I must mention that I am friends with Chaleff-Freudenthaler.)
Because the committee members do not disclose reasons for coming to the conclusions that they do, it is impossible to know what tests, if any, they apply when considering whether to pursue charges. The lawyers' arguments therefore repeatedly returned to the question of what the standard should be for taking the matter to the next step. Rubin compared the committee's role to that of a police officer, who must only determine whether there are reasonable grounds to lay a charge. Barlow, on the other hand, approached the committee as though they were members of a jury; he aimed to create sufficient doubt in their minds as to whether this was anything other than a collection of innocent errors.
While some of the auditors' findings were disputed, a number of key facts were not. The Municipal Elections Act, for example, very clearly states that a candidate (or his or her spouse) may only "obtain a loan from a bank or other recognized lending institution in Ontario." The Ford campaign, however, kicked off with an interest-free $77,722.31 loan from Doug Ford Holdings, a corporation jointly owned by Rob, Randy, Doug and Diane Ford. Doug Ford Holdings is not a bank.
Committee member John Hollins (who was the head of Elections Ontario from 2001-08, and the head of elections for the City of Toronto before that) grilled Barlow on this point. Barlow responded that Ford had learned his lesson and wouldn't do it again. Barlow also argued that Ford was not getting a jump-start on his campaign with this financing method, but merely catching up to those candidates (such as Smitherman and Pantalone) who had begun running two months earlier.
Ultimately, Hollins moved that the committee begin legal proceedings against Rob Ford. But he failed to find support from either of his peers, who - for reasons unknown - had concluded that it was time for the compliance audit process to end. Donors to Ford's mayoralty campaign may now begin to receive rebates for their contributions.
Ford celebrated his victory in the two-year ordeal by leading reporters on a chase to his office, inside of which he promptly disappeared.
Forty minutes later, the mayor emerged to delivered a prepared statement and take no questions.